Taranaki counting losses, as key players leave

Jayden Hayward tackled by Canterbury's Matt Todd and Tyler Bleyendaal.
Jayden Hayward tackled by Canterbury's Matt Todd and Tyler Bleyendaal.

Jayden Hayward's immediate rugby future lies across the ditch, with the Taranaki stalwart signing a two-year contract with the Force.

While Hayward would not discuss the subject yesterday, it is believed he sought a release from his New Zealand Rugby Union contract several weeks ago.

That was granted, despite the 25-year-old having another year to run on his contract with the Hurricanes. The decision means he will not return for Taranaki in the NPC.

It is believed Hayward, who has made 59 consecutive appearances for Taranaki, will take a pay cut just to play regular Super Rugby.

After two frustrating years at the Highlanders, Hayward was picked up by the Hurricanes as part of their wider training group in 2011 and ended up making 11 appearances.

However, he spent much of this year's Super Rugby season on the sidelines.

Faced with another bit-part role behind the likes of Tim Bateman, Alapati Leiua and captain Conrad Smith, Hayward decided to cross the ditch in search of more game time.

The Hurricanes have also signed Counties Manukau midfielder Rey Lee-Lo for 2013.

Hayward told his Taranaki team-mates of his decision after their heart-breaking NPC semifinal extra time loss to Canterbury on Saturday.

A Force spokesman would not confirm Hayward had signed with the struggling Australian franchise but said there was another place still open on the team's roster.

No-one from the Hurricanes would discuss the matter yesterday.

Hayward would not be the Force's marquee player for 2013, with that position filled by Blues halfback Alby Mathewson.

His defection will come as a hammer blow for Taranaki's coaching staff who have come to rely on him to fill the No 12 jersey, something he has done with distinction since he made his debut in 2008. No-one from Taranaki Rugby would discuss his departure yesterday.

Hayward follows homegrown prop Michael Bent out the door with Bent heading to Ireland tomorrow to take up a contract with Heineken Cup champions Leinster.

Meanwhile, exciting rookie halfback Jamison Gibson-Park is on the verge of signing a three-year deal with the Blues.

A Blues spokesman confirmed yesterday that they had agreed terms with the 20-year-old and were awaiting the result of a final medical test.

After a breakthrough year for Taranaki, Gibson-Park fielded interest from a number of New Zealand franchises.

It is believed he was offered a wider training group position with the Hurricanes, who have already contracted T J Perenara and Chris Smylie. It is not known if Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has offered the remaining spot to Frae Wilson or Chris Eaton.

Logically, Gibson-Park took up the offer for a full contract with the Blues.

New Blues coach John Kirwan has already signed Piri Weepu and New Zealand under-20 halfback Bryn Hall for next season.

Another former Hurricanes rep, hooker Laurence Corlett, confirmed yesterday he was retiring after 64 appearances for Taranaki.

Corlett saved his best performance for last, making a real impact against Canterbury after replacing the fast-improving Timo Tutavaha.

"I don't know where it has been [his form] all season," he said.

"It had been a frustrating year, ending up in hospital and missing the pre-season as well.

"I might play club rugby, I don't know, but it's too hard with all my commitments to carry on the rep stuff."

The 33-year-old said he had his wife Paula to thank for the length of his time playing for Taranaki.

After initially only wanting to be in the province for three years, he has just finished his eighth season in amber-and-black.

"The last three years have just been amazing, from where we were to where we are now," he said. "We've been a really tight team as well."